There are films that move the soul with their ability to induce in the viewer the depth of life depicted in them. If life is an art, such movies do the concept justice. Conversely, if art is life, justice is done all the same. The lines become blurred. Or you could say they merge in all their contradiction.
And it is precisely this fusion of emotions that underlies “Ajob Karkhana”, which has just been screened at the 23rd Rainbow Film Festival in London. Produced by Samia Zaman and directed by Shabnam Ferdousi, the story is the story of one man’s journey to new discoveries of his place in the world of music. Or could we suggest that Rajeeb, the acclaimed rock star at the center of the film, faces a rude awakening, the awakening leading to a wave of new emotions within him as he begins to understand life.
Rajeeb brilliantly played by Parambrata Chattopadhyay is on the peak of stardom, adored by tens of thousands of fans for the songs he sings from time to time. As with rock stars around the world, there’s just that nuance of hubris, that obvious sense of entitlement that defines him when he performs on stage. It’s that arrogance that kicks in — and lasts a long time — when the young music enthusiast with innovative ideas, played by Dilruba Doyel — lands in front of him with a call. The appeal is simple and yet loaded with rich substance. Rajeeb’s talents are needed, she informs her unequivocally, in a fusion of rock music with melody, spiritual melody, which has long been part of Bangladesh’s cultural heritage.
The art of persuasion is at work. Doyel takes risks to convince the initially dismissive and clearly sneering rock star that the new music she and her colleagues envision in their studio is the kind that only Rajeeb can deliver to his fans and, by extension, the country. The merging of the modern with the traditional is basically the central idea of the film. On a larger scale, however, the theme encompasses contemporary thoughts in association with the spirituality that has, over the ages, defined the soul of Bangladesh.
Rajeeb’s journey into this larger musical landscape is etched in deeper shades of meaning. The metaphorical takes center stage as the entire team, with Rajeeb at their heart, make their way through the rural parts of the country. For the rock star, despite his initial discomfort with living conditions in a village — he complains about the state of toilets, food, sleep, even almost everything — the journey of rock music to spiritual songs, from an urban slum to a pastoral setting is an odyssey of rediscovery.
Shabnam Ferdousi’s remarkable depiction of Rajeeb’s growing feelings of inadequacy as he becomes acquainted with artists, religiously devoted to soul music in the timeless spaces of Bengal, deepens the message. The rock star enters into communion with the members of Lalon, with village musicians touched by the notion of time and space that they symbolize in their songs despite the omnipresent poverty that governs their lives. Rajeeb’s rock star softens, more and more to the point where questions begin to assail him. Where is his music, conceived and born in a consumerist and soulless urban environment, faced with the spontaneity of the melody of rural artists singing in his presence, linking the present to the past, time to eternity?
And then the questions start making their way into Rajeeb’s soul. Who is the real artist, him or this poor, half-starved village artist who sings of a world beyond the temporal? A disturbed Rajeeb moves away from his strong point. His following fan in the city plunges, legal action is threatened when he does not keep his promises of new stage performances. The fault is not his stars or a deliberate assertion of indifference to his friends, those who helped him become famous in the first place. His unhappy marriage, his undoubted love for his child, the presence of a possessive girlfriend, his questions about his place in the world — now that new realities are beginning to shape his view of life — he falls back on gloomy reflections.
The rock star no longer rocks because his interaction with generational music rooted in timeless Bangladesh has rocked his world. His eventual refusal to end the series, much to Doyel’s dismay, is the denouement the audience experiences. A sad ending, but poignant all the same.
Ajob Karkhana is a journey of the soul, resting as it does on a heartwarming depiction of rural Bangladesh — its vast expanse of greenery, its simple buildings, its poverty-focused happiness. A renewal of the soul, in the public, arises with the music which crosses the landscape. The audience identifies with the music, with the larger mood of the scenes that the director passionately weaves throughout the story. Doyel emerges as the modern, hardworking young Bengali woman whose heart remains anchored in the ideas of a new heritage projection. Indeed, the entire cast of Ajob Karkhana draws a realistic portrait of the roles assigned to him.
The charm of Ajob Karkhana lies in its appeal to the heart. Long after the curtain falls on the final scene, the philosophy behind the story makes you think. Where does one identity stop and where does another take off? Or where does the meeting of identities strengthen individual awareness of the depth of life?
The questions leave you searching for answers, if you can find them.